Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Poem One Is Not Poem Two

Start here. End here.

Not as well formed of a thought as I thought it was going to be, but here goes:

Poetry readings—or reading poetry aloud—is fundamentally important. When given poetry as text, many approach it as a puzzle—as form—first, and language second. When hearing it, they are forced to hear it as language. It IS language finally. We all agree about this, I think? But we can forget it, or overlook it, or take it for granted when approach a text.

I wish we talked more about the vocalizing of poetry.

I would like to redirect the post I made last week a bit. Craft (form, etc) is important to poetry, and to my thinking about and reading poetry. What I was reacting to is the way—tonally maybe—people sometimes, often even, think of poetry as an erector set of formal machines. Poetry does have to get made, and everything made has a form, and a craft to create that form, but I’m more interested in the spirit behind it.

Part of this spirit, or my desire to talk about the spirit of the art object comes from the fact that there are a great many blanks in any art object. I prefer to hang out there. It’s one  of the major flaws of the way poetry is often taught in schools. Blanks can bring terror to teachers. Blanks aren’t testable the way non-blanks are. But the blanks are the very places we go to when we’re talking about the poems we love. The question of just what Wallace Stevens is getting at in “The Idea of Order at key West.” It’s the way things DON’T link up that are more interesting to me than the way they do.

That’s a form and craft issue too, but we tend to avoid those places, because they have the tendency to tie us up in knots, and that is a vulnerability we often don’t want to show to others, especially if we’re supposed to be experts.

Connotation and denotation, in poetry, for example, are part of a fuzzy interdependence. They are never in total control. Things happen there, that open what I’m calling blanks. This movement is an easy way to deconstruction, sure, but it also allows moments co-creation. All art is co-creation in this way, in its context, its situation.

How one handles those moments (as author or as co-creating reader) is more important, or, as important, as the form, the means of control in the poem, the art object. Even if one dislikes the blanks, one must deal with them, just as if one is bored or uncomfortable with the more usual formal issues, one still has to participate with them.

Furthering the point, I think that the hundred years since the start of Modernism (It started August 15th 1911, by the way), a century of new advances in science and the way we perceive the world around us, calls for a new approach to talking about and teaching poetry.

One can still profitably teach and study poetry as poetic forms. That’s a great way to talk about poetry up through E.A. Robinson. That’s how I learned poetry in High School and as an undergrad back in the 1980s. But what I feel like I didn’t get was a study in the most interesting things that have been going on since 1911. It’s not even contemporary poetry we’re talking about here. This stuff’s been around awhile.

The intellectual practices of how we talk about and teach the poetry of the last century (and continuing into this one) have not kept up with the changes in the practice of the art. We must change. The free-verse legacy has created a literary question (or questions) that haven’t been answered.

It seems to me sometimes when I’m talking to someone who has had some experience with poetry (almost exclusively prior to the 20th Century), that it’s as difficult to talk about new poetry as if I were trying to explain some aspect of Quantum Theory to someone who has only known Newtonian Physics.

This is not to knock them. Newton is still very important to the history of physics. All I’m saying is that, as poetry continues to bring one into the presence of a language act unique to itself, that language act, that approach to how language is, changes over time. And time demands new approaches. Not just because of the new poetry being written, but because of the people who are studying poetry. They also change over time, as the times change.

Form is not the best opening salvo in a course on poetry, and it’s precisely the wrong one in a contemporary poetry course. It still has a place, a large place, but I don’t believe that place is primary. Contemporary poetry, or a fairly large percentage of it, is outside the conception of what poetry is that reigned before 1911, or even—or especially—the way it was conceptualized as an object of study by the New Criticism.

I think we should be using the more innovative pedagogical strategies we use in teaching theory or fiction when we teach contemporary poetry.

Most people learn poetry through a historical lens, starting with very, very old things. Wonderful things, don’t get me wrong, but old things. I think that’s backwards. Or actually, I think completely different approaches need to be taken after The Romantics, but that’s a different argument.

I’ve meandered long enough, so I’ll close. Audiences, I firmly believe, would find what they’re looking for, if they would just look at poetry. As we who read poetry, it’s a vast, varied landscape. And, in general, poetry (no matter what stripe of poetry one cares for) does something different from all other forms of art, and should be recognized for what it is and can be.

 How many licks does it take to get to the center of a unicursal labyrinth?


At 10/12/2011 9:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Blank Verse

This page is blank.
I'd write something on it, but I'm drawing a blank.
My mind is like a snow-blanketed field,
blank except for rabbit tracks. I shoot at the rabbit,
but it's just a drawing, and it says, with the voice of Mel Blanc,
"Stop shooting at me, you blankety blank!"
"Don't worry," I say, "I'm firing blanks."

At 10/12/2011 10:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Matt Leblanc" would have been more musical.

At 10/12/2011 1:27 PM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

I often read books of poetry out loud. I find the language really comes alive when I do this and my brain processes things differently. It also gets really intense. I can only get through three of four poems like this before I need to take a break, whereas just reading them on the page I can zip through a book in no time.

At 10/12/2011 1:58 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


It's the same with me. I find that I don't need to read out loud anymore, but just kind of "head talk" to myself. I can't quite explain it, but it's different than just reading. It's like reading aloud, but without sound. I guess many people do some version of this?

At 10/12/2011 7:28 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Hooray for you, John.

All good poetry is song and all good song is poetry. In that vein, here is one of my favorite poems:

Desolation Row

They’re selling postcards of the hanging
They’re painting the passports brown
The beauty parlor is filled with sailors
The circus is in town
Here comes the blind commissioner
They’ve got him in a trance
One hand is tied to the tight-rope walker
The other is in his pants
And the riot squad they’re restless
They need somewhere to go
As Lady and I look out tonight
From Desolation Row.

Cinderella, she seems so easy
“It takes one to know one,” she smiles
And puts her hands in her back pockets
Bette Davis style
And in comes Romeo, he’s moaning
“You belong to Me I Believe”
And someone says, “You’re in the wrong place, my friend
You better leave”
And the only sound that’s left
After the ambulances go
Is Cinderella sweeping up
On Desolation Row.

Now the moon is almost hidden
The stars are beginning to hide
The fortunetelling lady
Has even taken all her things inside
All except for Cain and Abel
And the hunchback of Notre Dame
Everybody is making love
Or else expecting rain
And the Good Samaritan, he’s dressing
He’s getting ready for the show
He’s going to the carnival tonight
On Desolation Row.

Now Ophelia, she’s ‘neath the window
For her I feel so afraid
On her twenty-second birthday
She already is an old maid
To her, death is quite romantic
She wears an iron vest
Her profession’s her religion
Her sin is her lifelessness
And though her eyes are fixed upon
Noah’s great rainbow
She spends her time peeking
Into Desolation Row.

Einstein, disguised as Robin Hood
With his memories in a trunk
Passed this way an hour ago
With his friend, a jealous monk
He looked so immaculately frightful
As he bummed a cigarette
Then he went off sniffing drainpipes
And reciting the alphabet
You would not think to look at him
But he was famous long ago
For playing the electric violin
On Desolation Row.

Dr. Filth, he keeps his world
Inside of a leather cup
But all his sexless patients
They’re trying to blow it up
Now his nurse, some local loser
She’s in charge of the cyanide hole
And she also keeps the cards that read
“Have Mercy on His Soul”
They all play on penny whistles
You can hear them blow
If you lean your head out far enough
From Desolation Row.

Across the street they’ve nailed the curtains
They’re getting ready for the feast
The Phantom of the Opera
In a perfect image of a priest
They’re spoonfeeding Casanova
To get him to feel more assured
Then they’ll kill him with self-confidence
After poisoning him with words
And the Phantom’s shouting to skinny girls
“Get outa here if you don’t know”
Casanova is just being punished for going
To Desolation Row.

At midnight all the agents
And the superhuman crew
Come out and round up everyone
That knows more than they do
Then they bring them to the factory
Where the heart-attack machine
Is strapped across their shoulders
And then the kerosene
Is brought down from the castles
By insurance men who go
Check to see that nobody is escaping
To Desolation Row.

They be to Nero’s Neptune
The Titanic sails at dawn
Everybody’s shouting
“Which side are you on ?”
And Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot
Fighting in the captain’s tower
While calypso singers laugh at them
And fishermen hold flowers
Between the windows of the sea
Where lovely mermaids flow
And nobody has to think too much
About Desolation Row.

Yes, I received your letter yesterday
About the time the door knob broke
When you asked me how I was doing
Was that some kind of joke ?
All these people that you mention
Yes, I know them, they’re quite lame
I had to rearrange their faces
And give them all another name
Right now I can’t read too good
Dont send me no more letters no
Not unless you mail them
From Desolation Row.

– Bob Dylan

At 10/12/2011 7:31 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Please allow me share a personal story. Back when I was in High School (Benjamin Franklin was my History teacher) a bunch of us were sitting around and got into a big debate about whether Bob Dylan and Paul Simon were genuine poets. I, being a poet, was outraged. “How dare you,” I declared, “compare Bob Dylan to Edgar Allan Poe, John Keats, Percy Shelley, Dylan Thomas, Byron, even E.E. Cummings.” I was irate!

The years go by. Recently, I was asked on a poetry blog “What will it take to make poetry popular again?” Well, the fact is that more people have heard of Bob Dylan than Franz Wright, John Ashbery, Rae Armantrout and even Ted Kooser combined.

It took me forty years to realize it but, yes, Dylan is a poet!

All good poetry is song and all good song is poetry.

At 10/12/2011 9:03 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Here's another really good poem:

Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues

When you’re lost in the rain in Juarez
And it’s Eastertime too
And your gravity fails you
And negativity don’t pull you through
Don’t put on any airs
When you’re down on Rue Morgue Avenue
They got some hungry women there
And they really make a mess outa you.

Now if you see Saint Annie
Please tell her thanks a lot
I cannot move
My fingers are all in a knot
I don’t have the strength
To get up and take another shot
And my best friend, my doctor
Won’t even say what it is I’ve got.

Sweet Melinda
The peasants call her the goddess of gloom
She speaks good English
And she invites you up into her room
And you’re so kind
And careful not to go to her too soon
And she takes your voice
And leaves you howling at the moon.

Up on Housing Project Hill
It’s either fortune or fame
You must pick up one or the other
Though neither of them are to be what they claim
If you’re lookin’ to get silly
You better go back to from where you came
Because the cops don’t need you
And man they expect the same.

Now all the authorities
They just stand around and boast
How they blackmailed the sergeant-at-arms
Into leaving his post
And picking up Angel who
Just arrived here from the coast
Who looked so fine at first
But left looking just like a ghost.

I started out on burgundy
But soon hit the harder stuff
Everybody said they’d stand behind me
When the game got rough
But the joke was on me
There was nobody even there to bluff
I’m going back to New York City
I do believe that I’ve had enough

– Bob Dylan

At 10/12/2011 9:07 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Now here's a really great poem:

A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall

Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son ?
And where have you been my darling young one ?
I’ve stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains
I’ve walked and I’ve crawled on six crooked highways
I’ve stepped in the middle of seven sad forests
I’ve been out in front of a dozen dead oceans
I’ve been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.

Oh, what did you see, my blue eyed son ?
And what did you see, my darling young one ?
I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it
I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it
I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin’
I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin’
I saw a white ladder all covered with water
I saw ten thousand takers whose tongues were all broken
I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.

And what did you hear, my blue-eyed son ?
And what did you hear, my darling young one ?
I heard the sound of a thunder, it roared out a warnin’
I heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world
I heard one hundred drummers whose hands were a-blazin’
I heard ten thousand whisperin’ and nobody listenin’
I heard one person starve, I heard many people laughin’
Heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter
Heard the sound of a clown who cried in the alley
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.

Oh, who did you meet my blue-eyed son ?
Who did you meet, my darling young one ?
I met a young child beside a dead pony
I met a white man who walked a black dog
I met a young woman whose body was burning
I met a young girl, she gave me a rainbow
I met one man who was wounded in love
I met another man who was wounded and hatred
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.

And what’ll you do now, my blue-eyed son ?
And what’ll you do now my darling young one ?
I’m a-goin’ back out ‘fore the rain starts a-fallin’
I’ll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest
Where the people are a many and their hands are all empty
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison
Where the executioner’s face is always well hidden
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten
Where black is the color, where none is the number
And I’ll tell and think it and speak it and breathe it
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it
Then I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin’
But I’ll know my songs well before I start singin’
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.

– Bob Dylan

At 10/12/2011 9:47 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

And just two more to make the point:

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on that sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

- Dylan Thomas

The Tyger

Tyger Tyger. burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye.
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies.
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat.
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp.
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears
And watered heaven with their tears:
Did he smile His work to see?
Did he who made the lamb make thee?

Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

- William Blake

At 10/12/2011 10:00 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

All good poetry is song and all good song is poetry.

At 10/13/2011 8:19 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I've admired Bob Dylan for many years, and have over 200 of his songs on my media player. I'm sure I listen to his music (especially his late 60s albums) more often than I read any individual poet.

All this is just to say that I think he's a genius songwriter and lyricist. I don't, though, see the need to call his a poet. I don't see the value in doing that.

One thing I do know, is that if Bob Dylan had simply published his lyrics as poems, they certainly would (mostly) have gotten published, but no one would be talking about him now. It's because he set his words to music that they ramify.

At 10/13/2011 8:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"One thing I do know, is that if Bob Dylan had simply published his lyrics as poems, they certainly would (mostly) have gotten published, but no one would be talking about him now."

Thanks for saying this. I've always been perplexed by the idea that his lyrics hold up on the page as poems. I've never seen a single example.

The only pop lyricists I can think of who have (occasionally) written songs that hold up without music are Paul Simon and Joni Mitchell. I don't know why they rarely get the poet cred that Dylan gets.


At 10/13/2011 10:28 AM, Blogger David Grove said...

I like all the songwriters mentioned here, but I don't know of one song by any of them--Dylan included--that would stand up to a prosodist's scrutiny. They can write poetry, but their verse is doggerel. Leonard Cohen is one of the few songwriters with the chops to write songs that could be branded as skillful verse on the page.

At 10/13/2011 10:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Leonard Cohen is one of the few songwriters with the chops to write songs that could be branded as skillful verse on the page."

Can you post an example?

I don't know Cohen well enough to have an opinion that means much, but I've generally found his lyrics to ooze pretense. I just picked up a book of his poems last week ... the couple of pages I read ranked with the Rod McKuen book someone gave me in college as a revenge gift.


At 10/13/2011 10:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Someone someday is bound to change my mind about Cohen. All the lyricists I like most revere him.


At 10/13/2011 10:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are many poets whose work I've really liked, only to be disappointed (or bored to death) when I hear that poet read it aloud themselves. Just reading it aloud (in relentless monotone, for instance) isn't enough. Too many poets don't take the performance seriously, or just aren't adept or any good at it, and they do damage to their own work.

On Bob Dylan--not songs or lyrics: if anyone hasn't and they're still interested, read his experimental, stream of consciousness "novel" called "Tarantula" which I think he wrote around 1965 or so.

As far as pop lyricists whose work might hold up well on the page, I'd throw Nick Cave in there, and some Lou Reed.

Chris D.

At 10/13/2011 11:07 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


I think that's part of the reason why poet's don't talk about the hearing of the poem as much as they should. To talk about it, draws attention to the person drawing attention to it. But we should talk about it nonetheless.

As great as some lyricists are, I still don't feel any desire to "read" their lyrics as if they were poetry. I mean, why not just play the song and sing along? I've never read a lyric by anyone that I prefer that way. It's always still about the song, and I feel no reason to break it apart.

At 10/13/2011 11:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"There are many poets whose work I've really liked, only to be disappointed (or bored to death) when I hear that poet read it aloud themselves."

Wallace Stevens famously tortured admirers with his voice. I have a set of cassette tapes of his readings. It's a truly spectacular disaster.


At 10/13/2011 11:11 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

One can get better at reading aloud, though. It's the conversation we don't have, or that we don't have often enough. We do all sorts of conversation about workshop and all that, why not talk about voice? Does it feel too personal?

Even famous singers have vocal coaches. Just saying.

At 10/13/2011 12:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

John: I agree, I have some books of Dylan lyrics, for instance, and I'd much rather listen to the songs themselves. And hey, what's the point of divorcing them from the music, they're song lyrics after all.

But, there are those I've seen and heard who can read their lyrics and poems aloud and they are truly inspiring. And entertaining, for what that's worth. It's not just histrionics. I'm not talking about poetry slams either. Without music, the performance compliments the work itself and the words cut through, they come alive. Patti Smith comes to mind. I think Eileen Myles (not a musician, too, I don't think) is great at this. I've known people who don't care for her poetry who wind up pleasantly surprised after hearing her read.

Also, besides the actual reading aloud of the poem, there is whatever else that poet decides to talk or banter about between the poems. Sometimes that's even better than the poems. Which, yeah, is not really a strength, I'd say.

Chris D.

At 10/13/2011 2:35 PM, Blogger David Grove said...

Consider these lines:

Moonlit winter clouds the color of the desperation of wolves.

of your existence? There is nothing

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that they're good poetry. But what if I rewrite them this way:

Clouds the color of wolves' despair
Hover through fog and filthy air,
"Proof of your existence?
there's nothing but,"
Spinoza bleeds through a paper cut
Administered by the virginal slut
Who burned down every Pizza Hut
Between Carmel and Connecticut...

Are they still good poetry? What I wrote might sound kind of cool sung to the tune of "It's All Right, Ma" with guitar and harmonica, but are the lines by Franz Wright still good poetry when buried in this kind of--verse?

I love Dylan--love Tarantula, by the way. But I've just never been able to decide whether he's a poet or something else. And it's important.

Word verification: hydog

At 10/13/2011 3:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, that would be an excellent example except that you inadvertently improved upon the original, which confuses your point.


At 10/13/2011 3:10 PM, Blogger David Grove said...

Paul, I was going to send you Death of a Ladies' Man and Wheeling Motel for Xmas, but I guess that'd be a bad idea.

At 10/13/2011 6:06 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 10/13/2011 6:36 PM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

Tomorrow is going to be a big day for them. If they're still around after their confrontation with the park owners, the only hurdle they have left is the approaching winter.

At 10/13/2011 6:39 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

I dedicate this to all the 'Occupy Wall Street' people and ALL lovers of poetry:

American Tune

Many's the time I've been mistaken
And many times confused,
Yes, and I've often felt forsaken
And certainly misused.
But I'm all right, I'm all right,
I'm just weary to my bones.
Still, you don't expect to be
Bright and bon vivant
So far away from home,
so far away from home.

And I don't know a soul who's not been battered,
I don't have a friend who feels at ease.
I don't know a dream that's not been shattered
or driven to its knees.
But it's all right, it's all right,
We've lived so well so long.
Still, when I think of the road
we're traveling on
I wonder what went wrong
I can't help it, I wonder
what went wrong.

And I dreamed I was dying.
And I dreamed that my soul rose unexpectedly
And looking back down at me
Smiled reassuringly.
And I dreamed I was flying
And high up above my eyes could clearly see
The Statue of Liberty
Sailing away to sea
And I dreamed I was flying.

We come on the ship they call the Mayflower.
We come on the ship that sailed the moon.
We come in the age's most uncertain hour
and sing an American tune
But it's all right, it's all right,
You can't be forever blessed.
Still, tomorrow's going to be another working day
And I'm trying to get some rest,
That's all I'm trying to get some rest.

- Paul Simon

At 10/13/2011 6:43 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Fuzz: sorry for the deletion that left your comment in the lurch. I had to correct some punctuation.

Hope ol' Paul doesn't sue me.(Of course, he may give me a little editorial commission).


At 10/14/2011 7:28 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Leonard Cohen often introduces a song by reciting some of the lyrics. It sounds goofy, but is often quite effective.

At 10/14/2011 8:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tom Waits: "We tried to do that as a song over and over and over. It wouldn't work as a song. I just spoke the words and the whole thing came together."

What's He Building?

What's he building in there?
What the hell is he building in there?
He has subscriptions to those magazines
He never waves when he goes by
He's hiding something from the rest of us
He's all to himself, I think I know why
He took down the tire-swing from the pepper tree
He has no children of his own, you see
He has no dog, he has no friends
And his lawn is dying
And what about those packages he sends?
What's he building in there?
With that hook light on the stairs
What's he building in there?
I'll tell you one thing, he's not building a playhouse for the children
What's he building in there?
Now what's that sound from underneath the door?
He's pounding nails into a hardwood floor
And I swear to God I heard someone moaning low
And I keep seeing the blue light of a TV show
He has a router and a table saw
And you won't believe what Mr. Sticha saw
There's poison underneath the sink of course
There's also enough formaldehyde to choke a horse
What's he building in there?
What the hell is he building in there?
I heard he has an ex-wife in some place called Mayors Income, Tennessee
And he used to have a consulting business in Indonesia
But what's he building in there?
He has no friends but he gets a lot of mail
I bet he spent a little time in jail
I heard he was up on the roof last night, signaling with a flashlight
And what's that tune he's always whistling?
What's he building in there?
What's he building in there?
We have a right to know...

Tom Waits
from the album "Mule Variations," 1999

So, is it a poem set to music, or a song?

-Chris D.

At 10/14/2011 8:59 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

It's the neighbor that we all become:

At 10/14/2011 10:09 AM, Blogger Whimsy said...

I have to agree with Paul that David improved upon the clumsy "Moonlit winter . . ." with its indirection and double preposition. I wanted to mention that when you were discussing FW and The Twins . . .

I have grown to love Dylan, and could probably listen to Blood on the Tracks once a week . . . but I still don't think it's poetry. Unless, he says it is. That's my test, if the author says it's poetry, OK, it's poetry (but not necessarily good poetry). There are a couple of songs by Joni Mitchell that come close for me.

About spoken poetry: I think it may depend upon who is speaking. T. R. Hummer read a poem of mine and improved it 200%, for example. On the other hand, I've heard WCW race through The Red Wheelbarrow verbally, as if it were a TV commercial.

I also "hear" poems in my head, John.

At 10/15/2011 6:45 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

John Gallaher said:

“All this is just to say that I think he's [Bob Dylan] a genius songwriter and lyricist. I don't, though, see the need to call him a poet. I don't see the value in doing that.
‘One thing I do know, is that if Bob Dylan had simply published his lyrics as poems, they certainly would (mostly) have gotten published, but no one would be talking about him now. It's because he set his words to music that they ramify.”

Paul said:

“Thanks for saying this. I've always been perplexed by the idea that his lyrics hold up on the page as poems. I've never seen a single example.

'The only pop lyricists I can think of who have (occasionally) written songs that hold up without music are Paul Simon and Joni Mitchell. I don't know why they rarely get the poet cred that Dylan gets.”

The problem here, gentlemen, is that when song lyrics are transliterated to the page they are often a little rough and choppy. A singer can easily modify a line or modulate a word to match the rhythm of the song, but when put on paper this may appear a little unbalanced. A song lyric, without the tune, won’t necessarily match the perfectly structured meter and cadence of a ‘form’ poem like those of Thomas and Blake I posted above.

They may not be possessed of perfect measure or rhyme.

But, hey . . . I thought you guys liked Ashbery.


At 10/15/2011 7:25 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

“Don't you know there ain't no devil,
that’s just God when he's drunk.”

Tom Waits – Heart Attack and Vine

At 10/15/2011 8:22 PM, Blogger David Grove said...

Paul wanted to see some Cohen lyrics that work on the page. Here's a poem from The Spice-Box of Earth:


As the mist leaves no scar
On the dark green hill,
So my body leaves no scar
On you, nor ever will.

When wind and hawk encounter,
What remains to keep?
So you and I encounter,
Then turn, then fall to sleep.

As many nights endure
Without a moon or star,
So will we endure
When one is gone and far.

Later he made a song out of it for the album Death of a Ladies' Man:


As the mist leaves no scar
On the dark green hill
So my body leaves no scar
On you and never will

Through windows in the dark
The children come, the children go
Like arrows with no targets
Like shackles made of snow

True love leaves no traces
If you and I are one
It's lost in our embraces
Like stars against the sun

As a falling leaf may rest
A moment on the air
So your head upon my breast
So my breath upon your hair

And many nights endure
Without a moon or star
So we will endure
When one is gone and far

True love leaves no traces
If you and I are one
It's lost in our embraces
Like stars against the sun

So this one was originally written for the page.

You know Weezer's "Sweater Song"? The lyrics were originally a poem by Rivers Cuomo's brother Leaves. I lived with Leaves in a hippie coop back when Weezer had just released their first album. Leaves would go around trying to get people to listen to his brother's CD. We all thought it sucked. "Sweater Song" was on the radio a lot; I thought it sucked. Anyway, Leaves admired his brother, but he was also envious and a little angry that Rivers had stolen his poem. "Sweater Song," according to Leaves, was originally a poem he'd written. He thought he deserved credit as a co-writer.

Once I hung a parody of "Sweater Song" on the fridge. It ended with "If you want to destroy my map to your place, just hold a street as I walk away." Leaves was not amused.

At 10/16/2011 10:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sweater Song did suck but yet was also a somewhat catchy little tune I'd listen to in the car maybe on the work--which is just about all Weezer is good for.

Anyway, myself, I could give a crap about the lyrics if the music doesn't move me somehow first. If you're putting words to music, the music is the key. Otherwise write a poem for the page and be done with it.

In the world of poets trying to be musicians the one-eared musician is king.

Chris D.

At 10/16/2011 11:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"on the way to work" I meant actually, though "on the work" might be more accurate.

Chris D.

At 10/16/2011 11:21 AM, Blogger David Grove said...

"Hash Pipe" is a good jam. I always crank it up.

At 10/16/2011 11:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Leonard Cohen often introduces a song by reciting some of the lyrics. It sounds goofy, but is often quite effective."

... back in the 1940s the Kay Kyser orchestra had their vocalists do this with every song

At 10/31/2011 12:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know, David. Maybe it's just me but either as poem or song that just just strikes me as lumbering and suffocating.

It's strange, because I like the lyrics of people like Nick Cave and Tom Waits, and sometimes even Elvis Costello, all of whom say they look up to Cohen.

As much as I like them as songs, though, their lyrics only very rarely hold up for me on the page.


At 10/31/2011 1:28 PM, Blogger David Grove said...

Lumbering and suffocating! Well, Paul, tear that poem off your face, throw it on the wood pile, and take a deep breath.

Maybe you'd like "Famous Blue Raincoat" better. I have a French translation of that at my blog--"Ton Fameux Imperméable Bleu."

I never cared for Elvis Costello's lyrics--though like the protagonist of Trainspotting, I couldn't listen to anything but Elvis Costello for a time. totally wore out Armed Forces, Imperial Bedroom, My Aim Is True, Blood and Chocolate. But I loved it that Costello would, like, drive through Wisconsin with a notebook,copy down signs,and put them in his songs. The sign "Quisling Clinic" went into "New Green Shirt." Come to think of it, there's something Poe-like about the Cohen thing here. Galway Kinnell said Poe wrote like a blind man. He didn't notice stuff in the actual world around him, like a sign saying "Quisling Clinic." He wouldn't put that in a poem. Whitman would. And the Cohen piece here seems cut off from the world of '63, which is when it was published.


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